Behavior / 03.06.2015

By Rizwan Saeed Patriarchy is an established informal system. It has clear hierarchy of power and authority that is transferred from one generation to other. As it is an informal system, its roots are embedded deep in cultural settings and social fabric of societies. There are certain rituals and cultural practices that protect and strengthen this patriarchal system in the subcontinent. One key component of culture is language. Here I explore patriarchy in the culture of the subcontinent through the lens of language. In Urdu, there are names for each relationship that falls under the line of authority. To understand authority lines we will have to understand some basic family structures prevailing in the subcontinent. In the subcontinent, joint and extended family systems exist in which husband, wife, husband’s brothers and their families (spouses and children), parents of husband, and unmarried sisters of husband live together under one roof....

Democracy/Governance / 25.03.2015

By Anjum Altaf Consider two recent electoral results from India: Of the total seats contested, the BJP won 52 percent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and 4 percent in the 2015 Delhi state elections. The first was characterized a sweeping victory; the second a crushing defeat. Yet, in both contests the share of votes cast for the party was the same – about a third. This is a quirk of the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system in which the candidate with the most votes wins a constituency. A candidate securing one-third of the votes cast could win or lose depending on the number of other candidates and the distribution of votes among them. Is this problematic? Yes, if one considers it unsatisfactory that a party representing a third of the voters in a state has no say in its governance. It is for this reason that the majority of...

Behavior / 20.03.2015

By Anjum Altaf First, the result – A disciplined, professional team easily took care of a ragged, mercurial bunch of individuals. Lightning did not strike. No miracles occurred. As we watched the pathetic procession in the first half, lines from Macbeth came flooding back: … a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.  Then, as comments began to circulate, the dissension amongst the faithful was captured by the lines that immediately followed the above: [Enter a Messenger] Macbeth. Thou comest to use thy tongue; thy story quickly. Messenger. Gracious my lord, I should report that which I say I saw, But know not how to do it. Macbeth. Well, say, sir. Messenger. As I did stand my watch upon the hill, I look'd toward Birnam, and anon, methought, The wood...

Behavior / 19.03.2015

By Anjum Altaf The India-Bangladesh match ended predictably but in Pakistan its off-field resonance was of greater interest. All the ambivalent feelings about India and Bangladesh that are otherwise submerged bubbled to the surface. It was a rich occasion for some casual explorations in social attitudes. My limited sample revealed two sets of observations – those on which there was relative agreement and those where opinions were more divided. The first set comprised the following: First, a sense of pride that four South Asian teams had made it to the quarter finals of a major world championship. It was encouraging evidence of a South Asian consciousness amongst people many of whom had not seen more than one or two cities in their own country. Second, a fairly objective assessment of the quality of the four teams based purely on their track record. Most people ranked India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan,...

South Asia / 22.10.2014

By Anjum Altaf I doubt anyone would guess right if a quiz master were to ask what Britain's leading export was in 1997. The surprising answer: The Spice Girls, through sales of their music, attendance at their film, and related merchandising. This confirms that culture is big business. In the same year, the US economy produced over $400 billion worth of books, films, music, TV programmes and other copyrighted products and this category emerged as the leading export for the US as well. Not only that, the sector is growing rapidly, between two to three times as fast as the overall economies in developed countries. East Asian countries which grew by leaps and bounds during the last quarter century on the strength of low-cost manufacturing have noticed this phenomenon in their search for diversification. Almost all of them are investing heavily in promoting their own cultural output as...

History / 15.07.2014

By Kabir Altaf In 1026, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni raided the Hindu temple of Somnath (located in the present-day Indian state of Gujarat).  In retrospect, this event has had tremendous repercussions for contemporary South Asian history and is traditionally regarded as marking Hindu-Muslim animosity in the region from the outset. To this day, perceptions of Mahmud continue to be polarizing. While many Indians regard him as an iconoclastic invader bent upon loot and plunder, their counterparts in Pakistan view him as a conqueror who “established the standard of Islam on heathen land.” The Pakistani attitude is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that the country’s military has named the Ghaznavi missile in honor of Mahmud.  However, despite this conventional understanding, modern historians are attempting to question the received wisdom surrounding Somnath. One of the modern scholars attempting to arrive at a new understanding of Somnath is Romila...

Politics / 04.06.2014

Early on in Ulysses, Joyce has Stpehen Dedalus harking back to Aristotle and thinking the following thoughts: Had Pyrrhus not fallen by a bedlam’s hand in Argos or Julius Caesar not been knifed to death? They are not to be thought away. Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted. But can those have been possible seeing that they never were? Or was that only possible which came to pass? Weave, weaver of the wind. We are at that momentous point in South Asia where all of a sudden there is a burgeoning of potentialities only one of which will turn into reality – the actuality of the possible as possible in Aristotle’s formulation. I have no way of knowing which of those possibilities will become the reality we will look back on ten years from now....

Modernity / 25.05.2014

Here is a headline from today’s newspaper: Pakistan frees 151 Indian fishermen ahead of Sharif’s Delhi visit What can we infer from this headline about the world we live in? Recall the stories of bygone times that marked auspicious occasions: It was the king’s birthday – he ordered 100 prisoners to be released. The queen gave birth to an heir – the dungeons were emptied. The heir apparent got married – all death sentences were commuted. Are we living in bygone times or have the bygone times never left us? King Sharif? I am going to India – let us free 151 fishermen. Not only that, let us drive them from Karachi to Wagah in an air-conditioned bus. Let us give the ‘poor’ fishermen royal treatment because we are particularly pleased by the invitation – phooley nahiiN samaa rahey. Remember Diwali last year? We celebrated by releasing 15 fishermen as a gesture of our goodwill. We still...

Democracy/Governance / 04.05.2014

It was the late Richard Holbrooke who said: “Suppose elections are free and fair and those elected are racists, fascists, separatists — that is the dilemma.” That, indeed, is a dilemma. For the Americans, even the election of a remotely anti-American government was a dilemma and they spared little effort in overturning the verdict of electorates whenever such an ugly possibility reared its fearful head. So, it could have been an occasion of smug satisfaction for the rest when the American electorate voted in Bush except that he inflicted incalculable harm on the world while driving the US deep into the hole. That highlights the other dilemma – whether those freely and fairly elected are racists, fascists, separatists, or just megalomaniacal fools and simpletons, the damage they end up doing to themselves and others is serious business. Enter Mr. Modi. Mr. Modi has not been elected yet but it seems...

Behavior / 11.03.2014

Kashmiri students in Meerut cheered when the Pakistan cricket team defeated India in the Asia Cup, were suspended, and charged with sedition. Since then madness has prevailed with people taking sides whether the students were right or wrong and whether the charges were justified or not. Pakistan, as usual, takes the cake for stupidity – its hearts and college gates have been thrown wide open for the heroes of the resistance. I don’t know enough about the particular incident to wade into the controversy but there are things about it that seem quite obviously wrong and problematic. What, for starters, is the notion of an own side and why, for another, is one required or obliged to cheer only for it? Why should an accident of birth dictate my emotional attachment and why should I not have the choice to own the team I want? The notion...